What Is Micro-Ignorance and How Does It Impact Mental Health?

A common expression we often hear is ‘ignorance is bliss’. But what if being ignorant was contributing to people feeling excluded or discriminated against?

As Harmony Week approaches, we spoke to Psychologist Sabina Read about what micro ignorances are, how they can impact our mental health, and how to catch our own micro ignorances.

What is a Micro-Ignorance?

The term micro ignorance is a little known phenomenon, however, it’s a pervasive form of discrimination, found in the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights or insults, (either intentional or unintentional), that communicate derogatory messages.

How does it impact your health?

One-off comments may appear insignificant, however, the accumulative impact of microaggressions can take a considerable toll over a lifetime. Many studies indicate that experiencing a micro ignorance can result in traumatic stress. This stress is linked to negative mental health outcomes, such as depression, anger, physical reactions, avoidance, intrusion, hypervigilance, and low self-esteem.[1] Further, many people who experience micro ignorances feel unable to talk about it, or attempt to deal with it privately, resulting in feelings of isolation and being misunderstood. .

Although Australia is one of the most vibrant and multicultural countries in the world[2], 49 percent of multicultural young people admit to experiencing some form of discrimination or unfair treatment, a stark contrast from our reputation as a nation of tolerance.

What can I do about it?

Harmony Week is a time to listen, learn and celebrate the diversity of all Australians. T2 is encouraging Australians to join their brewing force for good, and in the time that it takes to brew a cup of tea–three minutes–have a conversation with someone new.

The most important thing we can do this Harmony week is to create a safer space to sit and listen to people so that we can continue to build a world where people from different backgrounds can authentically be themselves. Additionally, we all share universal human needs such as acceptance and belonging.  Looking for commonalities rather than differences between us can be a compassionate place to start to help build acceptance and celebration of all people.

Common micro ignorances include:

  • ‘Can I touch your hair?’

Research indicates that Black women perceive a high level of social stigma against textured hair, with one in five black women feeling socially pressured to straighten their hair for work, twice the rate than for white women.[3]

Poet Anisa Nandaula, who was born in Uganda and grew up in Rockhampton describes micro ignorance for her by the way she often gets asked by people if they can touch her hair. “The thing is, people don’t do this intentionally but they don’t understand the history behind it.  Women with afros who looked like me used to be put in zoos, where people would pay to see and touch us,” says Anisa.

  • Speaking in Broken English

For Eunice Andrada, born in the Philippines and living in Australia she experiences the micro ignorance of people being surprised that she can speak English, “I was at a Chinese restaurant the other day with my mum and this man came up to our table and wanted a chair but the way he spoke was in broken English and I was thinking I understand you.”

  • ‘You look so good for your age’

Although we might think that the compliment is to ‘look younger’, it addresses the overarching issue that it isn’t okay to look older.

For Poet Emilie Collyer, the micro ignorance that bothers her is the assumption based on the way people look. In her poetry, she focuses on ageism and how it feels for her to be stereotyped in society. “It’s assumptions about as you get older, you’re less interesting, you’re less relevant and you’re out of touch with the younger generation. Can’t there be cross-pollination?”

  • Staring

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of someone’s eyes on you, and whilst it can be unintentional from the perpetrator, it can send a message of ‘you look different’.

For Anisa, she opens up about how the security guards watch her in the supermarket and always ask to check her bags as she leaves the shops, “they look to see if I have stolen something, forgetting that I am the one who has just been robbed.”

“Through listening comes acceptance”, says poet Eunice Andrada, “it’s about not imposing their own beliefs on other groups of people, other communities. I think it truly means understanding other people and really hearing them. Just looking past all of the media noise, all of our preconceived beliefs about people and to actually see people for who they are.”

Watch the raw and relatable poetry video here which features the dynamic, diverse voices of four award-winning Australian slam poets: Eunice Andrada, Anisa Nandaula, Jesse Oliver and Emilie Collyer. Each poet’s performance is inspired by personal experiences, shaped by socially significant aspects in their lives like sexuality, ageism and racism.


[1] Columbia University, Initial development of the Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale: Assessing the emotional impact of racism. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 2013: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-28152-001

[2] The Mckellin Institute, Success in Diversity Report 2018: https://mckellinstitute.org.au/research/articles/why-australia-is-the-worlds-most-successful-multicultural-society/

[3] Perception Institute, The “Good Hair” Report 2017: https://perception.org/goodhair/results/

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